Simply no artificial ingredients.
By Christine Otsuka
Westin Playa Conchal
Costa Rica is a most authentic expression of beauty and natural diversity. The Central American eco-tourism destination is comparable to Hawaii in the fifties, before commercialization took over. Beyond gorgeous isolated beaches and awe-inspiring volcanoes lies a country largely untouched, natural and pristine. It’s small—the coast-to-coast drive is a mere five hours—but Costa Rica is brimming with exotic mountains, lush rainforest, quiet valleys and rolling hills. With an ambitious day-plan, it is quite possible to have breakfast in the Caribbean and dinner on the Pacific coast. But for groups and incentives, two regions stand out.
Flying into the San Jose International Airport, in the Central Valley region, visitors will encounter modern amenities in the country’s business hub. But because this eco-tourism destination has so much more to offer, it’s well worth the three-hour drive to the town of La Fortuna, in the Northern Plains region, to experience the grandeur of the Arenal Volcano and soak in the thermal hot springs.
For such activities, the top choice is The Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort. The thermal pools, which range from 50˚C to 25˚C, feel like a luxurious hot tub—that is, until the smooth rocks are felt underfoot and the surrounding vegetation and wildlife is spied. This Five Diamond Leading Hotels of the World property features outdoor meeting spaces, including gazebos and Asian-themed gardens in the midst of the enchanting volcano hot springs.
The best views of the volcano can be seen from a suite at the family-owned Arenal Kioro hotel, from a zipline at Sky Trek Adventures or from the Arenal Volcano Park, especially near dusk (5:30 p.m.), when groups can view burning rocks falling toward the lake side of the volcano.
Home to the best beaches and a warm, dry climate (28˚C average), Guanacaste province, in the northern region, is a favourite for incentives of 300 to 400 people. It’s the second-largest province but the least populated, as much of the land is owned by family-run cattle farms. It’s here where groups can find Sabaneros (Costa Rican cowboys), horseback riding and some first-rate surfing, in the small town of Tamarindo.
This region is accessible by the Liberia Guanacaste airport and features several high-end properties, including the newly-renovated Westin Playa Conchal, the hotel chain’s first all-inclusive property, and the 289-room (21-suite) J.W. Marriott Guanacaste, an exquisite experience, with world-class dining and superior hospitality.
What’s most impressive about Costa Rica is the way in which visitors can interact with this naturally-preserved landscape. Adventurers can raft along white-water rivers, stare into the crater of an active volcano, descend into underground caverns, rappel down a waterfall, take a balloon ride over the forest and scuba-dive in the ocean.
GIFTS AND GIVING BACK
When it comes time to give attendees that special local something, connect with a DMC, such as Costa Rica DMC Tours or TAM Travel, which will help source the perfect memento. Popular gifts include painted glass jewelry, picture frames, salad tongs and trays made from local rosewood. Or to leave delegates with a memory rather than a memento, consider painting murals, building playgrounds or planting green gardens in the local community.
Take comfort in knowing that groups’ impact on the beautifully preserved country is minimized, since Costa Rica’s hotels partake in the Sustainable Tourism Certification Program, ensuring that tourism works in harmony with nature. For more information on the program, visit turismo-sostenible.co.cr
Christine Otsuka is Assistant Editor of Meetings + Incentive Travel.
Costa Rica is a peaceful, democratic and army-less country, with more teachers than policeman. Known for its kindness and hospitality, the country’s major efforts are devoted to improving its health and education and promoting development.
Juan Santa Maria Intl. Airport SJO in San Jose; Daniel Oduber Intl. Airport LIR in Guanacaste
Green Season is May to November, Dry Season is December to April
Hepatitis A + B, rabies, typhoid and yellow fever recommended at least 4-6 weeks before travel
Spanish, English widely spoken
852 bird species—More than U.S. and Canada combined
12 hours of daylight (5:30 a.m.—5:30 p.m.)
Photo: Westin Playa Conchal.